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Appropriate concequences for preschool/early school aged kids?

734 Views 10 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  Piglet68
I have three children - a 5yo DS, a 3 1/2yo DD, and a 9mo DS. We've never before had a problem with discipline. I know that this may be contraversial, but we used timeouts from fairly young, although they were seconds long in the beginning. The message we were trying to get across was if you're going to do XXXX then you are not going to be allowed in that situation. When they were babies we of course just distracted and/or moved them. But when they were old enough to let us know that they knew what we were talking about is when we started them. When they got older still, we added time alone in their room. If they were behaving in a way that was socially unacceptable (like being mean to another child, they weren't allowed near other people for a short amount of time and had to play in their room by themselves.

As I said this had worked for us for a very long time. However, lately it seems we need something different. My DD has such a good imagination that I don't think she even notices when she's in a time out. She sits there singing and talking to herself for the appointed amount of time without complaint. And my 5yo is recently immune to them. We don't give them very often normally, so it's not like he's in them so much he doesn't care. But lately when he does get one he's very mouthy and rude. He says he doesn't like us and that we're stupid and that he's NOT going to have a time out. He tries to discipline us, threatening to take away our privilage to go in his room, or ground us or any number of other things. The funny thing is, that the more time outs he gets, the worse his behaviour becomes.

Now, I know that some of this is due to stress he's going through. I'm trying everything I can to work that out for him, but I'm having a rough time. He is a very gifted child and needs a certain amount of intellectual stimulation (acutally it's a HUGE amount of intellectual stimulation) to be happy daily. I am unable to give him as much as he would like simply because I have two other children and a house to take care of. I also am a student myself, although I've taken the summer off. Because of a financial crisis we found ourselves in I had to start watching children again, and he's had a rough time adjusting to that. When they are here they want to do what he's doing but are unable to do it. The little girl is his age and will be starting school this fall, and she's quite smart in alot of ways, but he's wanting to do advanced math problems and she doesn't quite grasp adding yet. They're here 5 days a week for pretty much all day. We try to fit in a few minutes of learning time before they come, but that doesn't always work since they come fairly early. Then, when they leave it's time for dinner and a bath, I read a couple of chapters in our current book to him and it's off to bed. During the day there isn't much time for things like that, not even reading because her attention span isn't such that she'll sit for reading out of a book with few pictures in it. So I understand his frustration with the situation, however I don't think it's ok that he's become so rude and mouthy with us lately. He has also become mildly agressive. He has hit (although not very hard) a few kids, including his sister, out of anger a few times recently. We tried sending him to play by himself when he was acting like that, but if we continued we'd never see him during the day, it's so bad.

Any ideas on how to deal with this would be apprieciated.

Thanks so much
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I'm curious, what is wrong with your DD entertaining herself while in time out? I don't believe in time out anyway (am a former preschool teacher and can attest to the fact that they do not work) but if you are determined to use it, what is it that you expect your DD to do while there? If you're upset because she isn't crying or pouting, then the problem is in *your* idea of what a "consequence" is, not in how she is handling the time out. Your idea of a "consequence", if you expect her to be crying or feeling bad, isn't really a consequence, but a punishment. KWIM? Also, I think the fact that she is basically separating herself from the whole situation is evidence that it really hurts her that, rather than help her come up with a solution to the problem she has caused, you've sent her off on her own to punish her.

My DD is still a baby, so I'm sure others will have advice for you on alternatives that I don't know of, but I did want to offer my perspective re:your daughter daydreaming while in time out.

ETA: I could be wrong about all of this, but it was just a thought.
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I'm sorry, it seems as though whenever I post something there is always something that I don't elaborate enough on in the interest of not going on for too long. Not that my posts are short even then.

My objective in putting my kids in a time out is not to make them miserable. I want them to understand that, for example, because they were getting too wound up and throwing toys that they need to extract themselves from the situation. I want to give them a little time away from the situation that caused this behaviour and get them to realize that, in this case, throwing toys is not an ok thing to do if you want to continue to play this game. Time outs was successfull in conveying this message until her imagination became so dreveloped. I used timeouts only when they became old enough that distraction and redirection didn't work and only when there were no natural consequences. For example, if they are using the computer and banging on the monitor they would not get a time out, they would be asked to leave the computer alone until they were able to use it nicely. Now, when she goes into that time out because she needs to have a chance to calm down so that she won't be flinging toys all over the house, she bounces around in the chair, sings loudly to herself, has conversations with imaginary friends and the second she gets down she jumps back into the situation and starts flinging toys again. It's almost like I'm saying "Could you pause your game of throwing toys around to come play this really cool other game with me? Alright now go back to it." She doesn't calm down. Not even if I sit with her. I've tried talking to her and singing soothing songs to her. She sometimes gets excited and gets a little rough with the baby. She doesn't mean to hurt him and there don't seem to be any resentful feelings toward him - she adores him. I try to redirect her by giving her lotion to put on him or a blanket to throw over her head and play peekaboo, but when she repeatedly does something that may hurt him regardless of these methods because she is so excited, what am I to do? Sending her away from him doesn't work because he is mobile and will follow her, even if I attempt to distract him. And she just goes into another room and plays until she's allowed to come near him again and starts doing what she was just doing.

So I guess what I mean to say the problem with her entertaining herself is that she is oblivious to the fact that I am trying to get her attention.

If that makes any sense at all.

FWIW, I have babysat and worked with kids as long as I can remember practically. I have never seen a child her age have the imagination that she has, and I have always used timeouts with kids this age with great success.

Thanks for your response.
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Yeah, I *was* wrong. It happens...often.
That's why I edited - just in case I misinterpreted what you were saying. Well, I know someone will help you out!
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Okay, so what I'm reading here is you want timeout to be an opportunity for them to calm down (if being overexcited is part of the problem). But you know, some kids don't know how to do this, and sending them off by themselves is kind of like handing a child a math book and telling them to go read it by themselves in the hopes they'll learn math. She needs help learning how to calm down, and I don't think timeouts achieve this. I think kids need to learn these things from the adults around them through modelling and active help.

As for the baby thing, well kids that age have so much energy and enthusiasm and personally I think it's really hard for them to just "control" themselves, even when they know they should, or know their actions could be harmful. As you said, she isn't intentionally trying to hurt the baby, so you must conclude that the reason she doesn't stop the potentially dangerous play is because she can't. She sounds like a wonderfully intense, spirited, imaginative little girl and you really don't want to stomp that out of her, you know?

And the 5 year old, well...I really have to LOL at him, though I'm sure it isn't so fun for you! I mean, the whole "him trying to punish you guys" stuff is really a mind-opener, isn't it? KIDS LEARN BY MODELLING YOU. By using punishment as a technique you are teaching your child that this is how we react when we have a problem. Example: he's running around having fun but it's driving you nuts and things could get broken/hurt...this is YOUR problem. So to "fix" it, you impose a punishment on him because you are bigger and you can. Now...later on in the day, something you do is bothering him so what does he do? He threatens to punish you. He learned his lesson well, didn't he?
Smart little kid!

You say "the funny thing is, the more timeouts he gets, the worse the behaviour". Well, to me that is perfectly logical and I don't find it strange at all. Punishment of any form causes human beings to go on the defensive, and when you are 5 years old, using strong words is about all he's got. When he says he doesn't like you, and won't go, etc...well, he's trying to tell you how he feels - isn't that a good thing? I mean, shouldn't he be allowed to express himself? Sure, the delivery needs help but...

Anyways, I'm asking you these questions (with a smile on my face) not to be critical but just to get you to think. You may have used timeouts successfully, but each child is different. Personally, I believe punishment affects all kids the same emotionally - they get angry, resentful, and don't like it. But while some may just "take it", others fight back. I think that is what you are finding with your kids. What they are doing is so normal - you should read Alfie Kohn's book "Unconditional Parenting". This is exactly what he talks about. advice (if you still want it <wink>) is to cut out the punishment and imposed consequences. Your kids are obviously way too bright and energetic for that. Frankly, they sound like a fabulous bunch of people and it would be a real shame to squelch any of that. Such intelligence and creativity should be taken advantage of - get them involved in solving problems! Get them to figure out what solutions should be implemented! Teach them by actively teaching, not by using punishments and arbitrary consequences.

Anyways, hope this helps. Your kids sound wonderful!
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Thanks. My kids really are wonderfull - and intense, energetic, intelligent, creative, ambitious little people. My 5yo really does think he's an adult. Anything we do he thinks it's ok for him to do, which in most cases is true, but he is constantly inviting people over or making plans without me and doesn't know why he isn't allowed to do whatever he wants whenever he wants.

His dad and I have slightly differnt parenting styles. I set rules that are natural, common sense rules. We have six and they include things like being truthful and respecful (of everyone, not just us - and the rules are for everyone to try to follow). When the rules are broken, I like to make the consequences as natural as possible. For example, one is to keep our environment neat and clean. Today there were toys in the living room that needed to be picked up and I had my hands full getting ready for company. If they had not picked them up as I asked, I would have done it, but I didn't have the time to sort them out and put them away with everything else, so I would have simply taken a laundry basket and thrown them all in there and stuck them in the hall closet until I could get around to it. Their dad is really alot more into punishment, he probably would have taken the toys away, not because he didnt have time to take care of them, but because they didn't listen. If we're outside and one of them goes where I can't see them, we go inside because it's important that they be safe if they are to be outside. I present it more like a cause and effect sort of thing, he would present it more like it's his choice.

Because of this, DS and him are in an ongoing power struggle. When his dad is having a rough time with him he tries to assert his control more by being more stern or upping the punishment (longer timeout, things taken away...). I know that this is why DS tries to punish us. I had no problem with him myself until his dad lost his job and started staying home more. I've tried to talk to his dad about this, but he says that he isn't going to "let" him talk to him that way. I need to stop his behaviour because it is harming our day to day relationship, but also because one of them has to back out of this ridiculous power struggle for it to stop, and it's not going to be his dad.

How would you recommend that I help DD calm down? When I have a 9mo, another 3 1/2 yo and two 5 yos it's hard for me to focus on just one. I have before tried sitting with her, rubbing her back and talking or singing to her, and that doesn't seem to help. I am, for the most part, the poster child for calmness. I never yell at the kids, I don't scold them (other than in a very nice, I'm-sorry-but-you-xxx-so-now-xxx-will-happen sort of way) and if I do get frustrated with something, I let it be and come back when I'm less frustrated. If they are upset about anything I always offer to hug them until it's better. I refuse to fight or argue with their dad until they are in bed and most definately asleep, and even then I don't raise my voice. How else can I demonstrate calmness?

Your said your advice is to cut out punishments and imposed consequences. I need some clarification. Would an imposed consequence be like, "you were being rough with that and now it needs to be put up for a while so it won't get broken"? If so, what would your suggestion of how to deal with that be? Also, if he starts throwing things when he's playing, how would you handle that? If he were to get mad that I said no to something and tell me that I was stupid, what would you suggest?

I have asked them how they think certain circumstances should be dealt with (ex. "how can we make sure that this doesn't happen anymore?") and I usually get answers like "I'm pretty sure that if I had ice cream for breakfast every morning that would work" or "maybe you should make me play my computer game all day tomorrow". Now, problem solving in other areas works great. If DD is having a rough day and I sit down and do a 300 piece puzzle with her (mainly just keep her company while she sits and does it) things go much smoother. DS loves logic problems and math and board games - especially chess. On days that we have time to work on these things, he's fine. But, watching kids that are at different levels makes it hard. If we want to do math problems, I need to come up with them at four different levels because no one wants to be left out. I did just find out though that the hours that I'm watching kids will change and we'll have the morning to ourselves. Hopefully I'll be able to "fill them up" in the morning and negative behaviour will be less of an issue.

Thank you for your suggestions, I've added that book to my "to read" list, and have scooted it up to the top.
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I second the suggestion to read Alfie Kohn and the idea of involving the kids in what they think should be done when something comes up. I would have the 5 year old tell you what he thinks he should be able to do when he is angry. Work together to find something that is cool with both of you. He will probably need to be reminded, but who doesn't.

As for the time out, it seems to be doing exactly what you want. You want DS to take time to cool off. Singing and daydreaming seem pretty cooled off to me!
So, I wrote up this whole post but then read Piglet's. I'm just going to stand next to her and nod. :LOL

One of the most valuable lessons I'm taking away from Alfie Kohn's new book, Unconditional Parenting, is that it matters less how much we love our children than how they experience that love. You may understand your son's frustration, for example, but if he isn't feeling understood, then your understanding doesn't really count for much, you know? If you're putting him in time-out and he's getting "mouthy" with you, it's likely he's not feeling understood.

He has also become mildly agressive. He has hit (although not very hard) a few kids, including his sister, out of anger a few times recently. We tried sending him to play by himself when he was acting like that, but if we continued we'd never see him during the day, it's so bad.
How about instead of isolating him, try to keep him close? Talk to him about what's going on - about how you want him to be around but you're concerned about others getting hurt. You said he's very advanced. Would he be able to brainstorm with you about ways that he could get what he needs in the context of what has to happen in your house.

For your 3-year-old: Maybe she'd like to ride on your back in a sling while she calms down? When I was watching 3 other children in addition to my own son and he was about that age, it worked wonders to just keep him as close as possible when he was having a hard time. If I carried him on my back, he felt close to me and I could still do things with the other children.

About his intellectual stimulation - I wonder if you could do something like get a large chalkboard (or maybe chalkboard paint part of a wall) and set up a bunch of math problems for him before the other children come. Would something like that work? Also, you might be able to find a computerized chess game fairly cheap that he could play by himself. Maybe he could sit at the table where the other children can't necessarily get to him?
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With my own daughter, at this age, we stepped back from pure consequences and started offering a lot more choices (and asking for choices that she could come up with). It seemed to cut down a lot on needing to go as far as consequences of actions - I think because she felt more in control and participating in options. I utilized a couple of discipline books meant for older children, that seemed in line with Sears-style AP.

I also tried to pay attention when she was going through one of her "phases" that usually seems to happen around the half-year mark (i.e. 5 and a half, etc). She seemed unusually irritable and difficult to talk with during this time.
Thank you all of you for your suggestions. I do give him choices whenever I can, but when the other kids are here, there aren't nearly as many. I've felt like it would be wrong of me to make things unfair when the other kids are here, but I'm starting to feel like it's his house and he should be allowed to do things that I may not let the other kids do. For example, we do have a chess program for the computer and a few other games that he like and are educational and challenging, but the other kids don't do well on the computer, so I try to keep them away from it. In doing so I've been telling him no because it is right in the living room and when he uses it, they want to use it. Also, he plays out back by himself, but I can't leave the other kids unattended because I'm afraid they'll run off and they aren't my kids. I know him and I know he won't run off (besides, I watch him out the window) but I just don't feel comfortable with letting the others out without me. Their mom doesn't want them out in the rain, either, and lately it's been raining ALOT here. Going outside and running around is one of those things that helps him handle his frustration, but I've been only letting him out when everyone can go out.

I do have a white board, but I haven't utilized it for problems because he doesn't like to write too much (and we don't push it, after all, he is just 5), and because the kids like to draw on it. I guess I could bring a chaulkboard down from upstairs and allow the kids to draw on that and block off the white board so only he can use it. I have put a gate at the bottom of the stairs and the other kids stay downstairs, but my kids are able to go up and have some time in their rooms if it all gets to be too much for them downstairs. It just felt wrong to allow other kids to wander in and out of their bedrooms all day. Normally they stay downstairs, but they don't really have much to do upstairs. I could leave a pile of mazes and puzzles that he's able to do on his own on his table up there, so when he's wanting time alone, hopefully instead of acting out he'll go upstairs and do them. I've also been thinking of printing out worksheets that I know the other kids can do without assistance and let them do those when he's wanting to read his mathbook with me. And I suppose I could institute all of these things in the name of homeschooling. When the other kids ask why he's allowed to play on the computer when they're not I could explain it's just his school work. Which it really is.

I'd love some input on whether people think that it is fair to let your own kids do more at their house than other kids their age that you're watching.

We talked this morning, and he agreed not to say nasty things to me for the next couple of days and I agreed not to give him time outs.
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The issue with your DH must be frustrating for you. Would he be willing to read a book? I think he would really resonate with "Parent Effectiveness Training" by Thomas Gordon. It's an easy read, and is written to the parent who may consider punishment or power struggles as inevitable. Alfie Kohn is also a great read, but doesn't have as many concrete examples and suggestions. If you don't think he'll make it through a book, there are some excellent one-page articles at

"How Children Really React to Control" by Thomas Gordon

"The Case Against TimeOut" by Peter Haiman

...and others. You can peruse them and find one or two you think might help your case with your DH.

I definitely agree with your idea of letting DS do the things he wants to do, even if the other kids don't. For example, could you move the computer to another room? Or just explain to the kids that it's just for "older" children (the same way you would explain to a 3 year old why Daddy can play on the computer but she can't). Ditto with letting him outside.

You asked about how to get DD to calm down. I don't know, but experiment. Post a thread here about it (I recall one mama had a little dance/exercise routine that she would do with her DD to calm her down). Maybe there is an exercise she can do (like the puzzle) near you while you work on something. I understand it's hard when there are other children to look after.

The imposed consequences thing is a fine line. Obviously safety comes first. If a child is doing something that is endangering him or others you must act, even if that means "using your power". Throwing things around the house, I would redirect him to another activity, something equally physical if possible. Playing rough with something, I would get down on his level, play with him and the object modelling gentle use, then if I really didn't have time for this, I would explain that he needs to play with something else now and ask him what his choices are while I'm putting the object away. I wouldn't say it like "you didn't play gently so now it's going away", but rather "i'm concerned this will get broken. i need to put it away. what would you like to play with now?" and if he got upset I'd just hug him and explain he's disappointed and I understand. I would not return the object. I would continue to help him find something else to do. As for telling you that you are stupid, well this is just his very limited 5 year old vocabulary at work here. I'd try to give him better words "you sound angry with me", "you don't like that we can't play with this object right now", etc...I would also explain at some other time about "hurtful words", then at the time I could say "those are hurtful words", you can say "I'm angry at you mum!" and encourage him to say it with feeling (not yelling of course). I got my DD to stamp her feet. We practiced it together and it usually ends up dissolving her anger. I don't let "back talk" bother me in the slightest. I think giving that attention is what makes it more powerful for the child.

The key to the problem solving is doing it together and agreeing on something. Example, you say "we have a problem what are some things we can do to fix it". DS says "ice cream every morning!" and you say "okay" and you write it down. then you say "we could put the toys away and only have one out at a time" and write that down. Write down whatever suggestions he comes up with. Then when you have a decent list, go through them together. You may say "okay, the ice cream one isn't going to work becuase we have rules about eating desert" and he may say he doesn't like the idea of putting all the toys away because he likes to play with more than one at a time. Find one that both of you can agree on. may take time. Some kids don't really trust that they really have an input on this, thus the silly games. Thomas Gordon talks about this in his book, and outlines the problem solving process (as do Faber and Mazlish).

Well, I hope this helps some. You sound like a great mum with great kids. You just need to knock some sense into your DH.
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